The upscale Italian restaurant chain Il Fornaio is being sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for allegedly allowing female workers to be sexually harassed by male supervisors, managers and co-workers and for retaliating against those who complained.

The agency filed the complaint Wednesday, Aug. 24 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

The EEOC did not provide details on which of the company’s 20 restaurants were involved or the number of female employees who were allegedly harassed. Il Fornaio has Southern California locations in Woodland Hills, Beverly Hills, Manhattan Beach, Pasadena, Irvine and Del Mar. The company also has nine restaurants in Northern California and one in Las Vegas.

The EEOC complaint says the alleged harassment began as early as 2016, with frequent and offensive sex-based remarks and unwelcome touching. The agency also alleges II Fornaio management failed to investigate the claims or take corrective action while at the same time discouraging more complaints from being filed.

Representatives with II Fornaio could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The Italian restaurant chain II Fornaio has been sued by the EEOC for allegedly allowing its female employees to be subjected to sexual harassment and retaliation over a period of years. (File photo by David Crane/Los Angeles News Group )

The lawsuit stems from allegations of discrimination filed 30 days earlier by a female employee (identified in the complaint only as the “charging party”) who began work as an II Fornaio hostess in 2017. She continued working until May 2019, when she was forced to resign due to “ongoing sexual harassment by a manager and co-workers,” the EEOC lawsuit states.

Other female employees (the complaint doesn’t say how many) complained of similar treatment, the EEOC said, including being groped around the buttocks and genitals and being shown pornography on cell phone screens.

When the employees complained, Il Fornaio supervisors allegedly retaliated, reducing the number of shifts or hours the women worked, by making employees do more burdensome work, or by refusing requests for time off and issuing threats, the EEOC said.

The lawsuit said female workers began complaining verbally and in writing to II Fornaio supervisors, management and the company’s human resources department as early as 2016 to no avail.

On. Jan. 11, 2022, the commission issued II Fornaio a letter of determination finding “reasonable cause” to believe the company had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC gave the restaurant chain a chance to remedy the discriminatory practices, but that never happened to the agency’s satisfaction, the lawsuit said.

Anna Park, a regional attorney with the Los Angeles district of the EEOC, said the kind of behavior that occurred at II Fornaio can quickly spread if left unchecked.

“Harassment in the restaurant industry remains a persistent problem which requires employer vigilance to ensure proper mechanisms are working to address harassment before it permeates the workplace,” Park said in a statement.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial on issues contained in the complaint and an injunction barring the company and management from further engaging in inappropriate behavior.

It additionally seeks punitive damages and employee compensation for past and future monetary losses related to violations of Title VII in amounts to be determined at trial.